The scenic lake that is one of the capital city’s treasures will be named after the former first lady who helped make it beautiful.
Austin’s City Council voted unanimously Thursday to change Town Lake’s name to Lady Bird Lake, two weeks and a day after Lady Bird Johnson died on July 11 at age 94. The change is effective Aug. 6.
“Town Lake has always been a placeholder name,” council member Lee Leffingwell said, adding that at least four former Austin mayors attempted to bestow Lady Bird’s name on what’s been called the “crown jewel of Austin” only to be politely, but firmly, rebuffed by her.
Current Mayor Will Wynn noted this is “an item from City Council that’s been in the works roughly 36 years.”
Five former mayors attended the meeting. Also there were members of Johnson’s family, including daughter Luci Baines Johnson, who told the council her mother would have accepted the posthumous renaming of the lake, but that she wanted its hike and bike trail to be made fully wheelchair accessible.
Former state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was mayor from 1977 to 1983, approached Johnson with the idea of a name change during her administration and was told, ” ‘Oh my dear, not while I am here. I wouldn’t feel right doing that.’ ”
Johnson initiated and worked on the beautification project that transformed the lake area “from a garbage-strewn eyesore,” according to former Mayor Roy Butler, into the city’s most popular park and a tourist attraction.
The meeting wasn’t all smiles and backslapping. Luci Johnson noted that after Lady Bird Johnson suffered a stroke that left her using a wheelchair, being taken on the lake trail was “one of my mother’s final pleasures.”
“We discovered it was wheelchair accessible — although not quite enough,” she said, directing the remark toward Wynn.
Council member Mike Martinez took up the charge, saying that the trail is not compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. He also made a veiled reference to hotly disputed plans to sell areas around Town Lake to developers.
“I think it would dishonor Lady Bird and her family if we name Town Lake after her and don’t continue to protect and improve the area,” Martinez said. “Mrs. Johnson’s original goal when she started Town Lake was for the hike and bike trail to completely encircle Town Lake.”
*applause* Well done, everyone.
Although Johnson was famously shy, her daughter said she was gratified that so many enjoyed the river trail.
When Luci Johnson was wheeling her mother along Town Lake, she said joggers sometimes would “turn around with a screech like in the Road Runner cartoons to tip their hat and say, ‘Thank you, Lady Bird,’ and then continue their run.”
Wish I could have seen that.